Johnson is 75 now, retired and living in Florida, and his memoir — “Davey Johnson: My Wild Ride in Baseball and Beyond” — was published this month by Triumph Books. He said he watched baseball every day, paying close attention to his former teams, including the last one he managed, the Washington Nationals. That means he sees a lot of Stephen Strasburg, the right-hander who led the N.L. in innings pitched, with 53⅔, through Wednesday.
When Johnson talks about protecting his players, he can take some pride in Strasburg’s success. Strasburg, 29, is a three-time All-Star with a $175 million contract in the prime of his career, seemingly validating the Nationals’ infamous decision to shut him down in September 2012, before the playoffs.
Strasburg had gone 15-6, but the Nationals were cautious with him in his first full season after Tommy John surgery. They lost in the division series that fall, and while they have won three more division titles under General Manager Mike Rizzo, they have never escaped the first round. Johnson still laments the Strasburg decision.
“The arm is a wonderful thing,” he said. “It’s kind of like the legs: The more you use them, the stronger they get. In pitching, consistent throwing patterns build strong, solid muscles.”
Johnson, who spent most of his playing career with Baltimore, said the Orioles’ major league coaches believed pitchers should throw for 15 minutes every day. But, he said, a minor league coach — Harry Brecheen, who was nicknamed the Cat — felt the opposite.
“He babied pitchers, and they all fell apart,” Johnson said. “So I really believe that the more you stay on regular work, the less chance you have of injury. Now, doctors can come up and say things, really, to protect themselves. The manager and the pitching coach know how to protect a guy, but if the general manager and the team doctors say, ‘Shut him down,’ I don’t have any decision on that. I have to shut him down. I didn’t agree with it, but I shut him down.”
The best young pitcher Johnson ever managed, Dwight Gooden, worked 770⅔ innings in his first three seasons — including the postseason — before turning 22 years old. Gooden never pitched 200 innings in a season after turning 29, but Johnson said that a change in mechanics, and Gooden’s substance-abuse issues, caused his decline.